Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before there’s a birth, there has to be a conception. Conception takes place nine months before birth, give or take a few weeks. So, why are we having a service tonight? Today we have paused in the midst of this season of fasting and repentance and take a moment to celebrate. Why? Think about it. What other church festival always happens on the 25th of a month? That’s right, Christmas, which always falls on December 25. And since we celebrate our Lord’s birth on December 25, nine months before that, on March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day Mary heard the Word of God spoken by the angel and conceived the Son of God, our Savior Jesus. “Conceived by the Holy Spirit” on March 25, “born of the virgin Mary” on December 25, nine months later. Today we hear again the angel Gabriel and his startling claim that Mary “will conceive in [her] womb and bear a son … and he will be great.”
A Divine Origin
That’s certainly a lot for a teenager to take in all at once, isn’t it? Here’s Mary, engaged to be married, still a virgin, being told by an angel that she was about to conceive a son without the participation of a man. Luke makes it clear that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb before she had had any relations. Many people today find this difficult to believe. Impossible, they say. We live in an age of skeptics. We know how babies are made. Virgins don’t conceive. We all know that.
But, do not assume for a minute that Mary didn’t know the facts of life either. “How will this be since I do not know a man?” She asks. She knows the birds and the bees. Sometimes we think that those people two thousand years ago were all just superstitious peasants who would believe anything. You don’t need the internet to know that virgins don’t conceive. I’m sure Mary’s parents knew this too, and wondered what they were hearing when Mary came to them and said, “Mom, Dad, guess what? I just got a visit from an angel who said I was going to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God.” We know Joseph didn’t believe the story initially, but God had to persuade him through a dream. You can imagine what the neighbours said and thought about her, you know how small towns are. You can imagine the pain that went through Mary’s heart at first when even her beloved Joseph refused to believe her story. No wonder Mary escaped to the hill country to see her cousin Elizabeth for a few months.
Can a virgin conceive and bear a son, as the prophet Isaiah suggested centuries before. Impossible, some say. Sure it is. Virgins do not ordinarily conceive children, but these are not ordinary circumstances. God is involved, and with God, nothing is impossible. The angel Gabriel does not leave any doubt about who the Father is. God Himself is the Father. Jesus was not only going to be her son, but he “will be called the Son of the Most High.” And there was to come upon her and overshadow her the Holy Spirit, the Power of the Creator God himself. This child would not only be a son of God, but the Son of God. Like father like son. The Creator God, the almighty himself, who made all things who holds all things together, takes up residence in the Virgin’s womb and becomes man. The Creator becomes the creature. God becomes Man. The fullness of Deity deigns to dwell in the womb of a human mother. And our humanity in its most basic and helpless form, is embraced by God.
A Royal Birth
Being called the Son of God tells us there is a unique relationship with God. It points to Jesus own divinity. And this Son of God will be the promised king (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:27). God’s kingdom is everlasting, and God has promised that he himself would be King over his people. At the same time, first century Jews understood the “Kingdom” to refer to the lost golden age of David and Solomon, when the twelve tribes were united around Jerusalem. This is an announcement of a royal birth. This is the restoration of the lost kingdom. The child to be born will be the Messiah, the king promised to the house of David. The child to be born–the child that Gabriel tells Mary she will bear–this Jesus will be the great Davidic Messiah, who will usher in the kingdom of heaven, an eternal kingdom of blessing and peace.
God had promised David a descendant who would reign for ever—not over Israel only, but also the whole world. Jesus is the true ruler of the world in a way which leaves Caesar, and the governments of the world today, a long way behind. We can see why the story is so controversial. Maybe some of the fuss and bother about whether Mary could have conceived Jesus without a human father is because, deep down, we don’t want to think that there might be a king who could claim this sort of absolute allegiance?
We all have a natural aversion to the idea of Jesus being King. We don’t want God to be king, because that means we no longer call the shots. That means we are accountable for what we do. We live in a world that is broken and damaged. We live with the results of the evil choices we make. Evil is what happens when we chose to live our lives in rebellion to the King. We don’t want Jesus to be King, because that means we can’t do whatever we want. We want a God that’s a genie, who does our bidding. We do not want to be subjects of the God of the Bible.
Mary’s Son is going to reign upon the throne, “over the house of Jacob for ever;” and “of his kingdom there should be no end.” That’s going to happen whether we like it or not. This kingdom has “no end” in its spacial dimensions. No river contains it; no mountain, no sea; it reaches the whole world round. This king shall reign “for ever;” his rule will go throughout all ages; it will even include the last generation that dwells upon the earth.
Yet this king is not a tyrant. He is not cruel nor demanding. Today the Angel says to the Virgin: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” A week from today, the Virgin’s Son will say: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.” Today His Mother prays: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” A week from today her Son will pray: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” This child announced by the angel, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary–this Jesus Christ has become your King. What does it mean for Jesus to become King? It means that you had no King. You rebelled against God and were captive under the power of the devil. You were condemned to death and entangled in sin and blindness. It means that despite your rebellion, Jesus has sought you and bought you from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. God became man, conceived without sin, by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin. He suffered, died, and was buried that he might make satisfaction for you and pay what you owed, not with silver and gold but with his own precious blood shed for you. All this in order to become your king. Now you belong to him, and by God’s grace you will live under him in his kingdom, in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. This is most certainly true.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.